Milan and Genoa faced each other on matchday 26 of Serie A. For Davide Nicola, it was important to take three points to avoid a relegation battle. This alone set high expectations for this game and how they dealt with such pressure will be focused on in our tactical analysis. Milan, on the other hand, sits at the 7th position with 36 points. In our analysis, we will also explain Milan’s tactics and show how Stefano Pioli prepared for the game.
Stefano Pioli decided to make only one change to the team that played out a 1-1 draw Fiorentina. Asmir Begović replaced Gianluigi Donnarumma in the goal. Milan lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Andrea Conti and Theo Hernandez as the fullbacks, Samu Castillejo and Ante Rebic as the wingers, Zlatan Ibrahimović as the centre-forward, and Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessié as the double pivot.
Genoa set out in a 3-5-2 formation and shifted to 5-3-2 without possession. Domenico Criscito and Davide Biraschi were the two wingbacks who would often drop in the defence to join the defensive line and Goran Pandev and Antonio Sanabria were the centre-forwards. Lasse Schöne played as a defensive midfielder, while Francesco Cassata and Valon Behrami were the central midfielders.
Genoa’s organised defensive game
Genoa played in a low to mid defensive block with a fluid wide edge. Biraschi and Criscito provided the width from wing-back positions. Without possession for the significant periods of the game, Genoa were happy to drop into a deep block, providing little opposition to Milan’s ball progression in the central third.
Genoa were also smart enough to give up the possession in exchange for higher quality chances on the counterattack. They also kept a very tight marking on the flanks, making it difficult for Milan to create chances from the wider areas. In the image below, we see an example of this, Here Castillejo gets narrow and trying to exploit the half-space, but Genoa creating an overload on the right flank and not giving any space on the flank to Conti.
The image below highlights one more instance of Genoa’s low defensive block, the lines were narrow and there was not a lot of space between the defensive and the midfield line, we can also see Genoa’s 5-3-2 defensive system.
Milan’s offensive play and the pressing
There were multiple occasions during the match where Milan were dictating the tempo in midfield and were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from through balls and long balls, however, their finishing let them down. First, on this occasion, we see Hakan Çalhanoğlu played the ball in the box for Ibrahimović, in this case, his header was blocked by Mattia Perin. The duo would often combine to create chances for Milan.
To break Genoa’s lines, Milan tried build their attack through Çalhanoğlu with both the fullbacks join the attack to provide the width on the flanks, One part of Stefano Pioli’s plan was to use Ibrahimović as the false-9 as he would often drop in the midfield to break Genoa’s lines, this was done so as to create confusion in the centre-back’s mind on whether they need to follow the Ibrahimović into midfield or do they stick with their partner and maintain their defensive line.
The image below highlights one such example, Here, Ibrahimović drops deep and pulls out Andrea Masiello, who was playing as a left centre-back for Genoa and that has created the space for Castillejo and Rafael Leão.
One of Milan’s main methods of chance creation throughout this season has been the wing-play. In this game also, both the fullbacks, Conti and Hernandez provided the width from the flanks. The wingers, Rebić and Castillejo would often get narrow to create the space on the flanks for fullbacks. The image below highlights one such situation as Hernandez tries to cross the in the box. Milan played a total of 33 crosses out of which only 11 were successful.
In this analysis, we see how Stefano Pioli used two pivots, Bennacer and Kessié to create chances. In the image below we see, Bennacer is allowed the time to set his body right to send a delivery of high quality due to the lack of pressure from the Genoa’s players.
It is clear that Davide Nicola instructed his players to stand off Milan’s players and instead look to block the passing lanes. On a few occasions in this match, this led to Genoa letting up a decent quality chance for Milan to score.
The image below highlights another situation where Milan building the play through Bennacer. Here, Bennacer has three different options to choose from, again due to the lack of pressure from Genoa.
During Genoa’s build-up phase, Milan used a man-orientated zonal marking for their press. It was done in order to get the ball into wide areas to set pressing traps. They were closing the middle of the park in the first phase to force Genoa’s centre-backs to either play to their wing-backs or to go long. In the image below, we see 1v1 situations, Milan created while pressing.
Genoa’s counter-attack and the switch of play
Genoa were smart enough to relinquish possession in exchange for higher quality chances on the counterattack. Thus, Milan finished this match with 62% possession whilst Genoa ended the match only 38%.
In the image below, we see one example of Genoa’s counter-attack, here, Milan’s defensive line is out of shape and Sanabria had the option to either pass the ball to Pandev or to make the run on the flanks himself, In this case, he chose to make the run on the flanks before delivering the cross in the box for Pandev, this led to the Genoa’s first goal.
For significant periods of the game, Milan kept a very high defensive line and both the fullbacks joined the attack, this made them vulnerable to Genoa’s counter-attack. In addition to this, whenever Milan lost the ball in the midfield, Genoa tried to catch them on the counter as Milan were too slow, the slow transitions caused a lot of space to open in the attack for Genoa.
In the image below we again see that Milan’s backline is out of shape and Cassata had so much time and space to pass the ball to either to Sanabria or Pandev or to make the run himself.
Another tactical variant in the Genoa’s attack that troubled Milan was the switch of play, they would often switch the play to move the attack to the opposite side of the field. It was used to create the space to attack the wings by creating a 1v1 or 2v1 situation on that side of the pitch.
In the image below we see Romero switches the play to the left side, with Criscito and Cassata creating a 2 v1 situation on the left flank.
In addition to this, 50% of Genoa’s attack was generated from the left side. They tried to overload the left flank before either sending the cross in the box or attempting to hit the target. The image below highlights the left-flank overload, creating a 4v3 situation.
Genoa’s win lifts them out of the relegation zone and into the 17th place on 25 points. Milan stay seventh and miss the opportunity to go equal on points with Napoli, while Genoa claim a valuable three points in the quest for the top-flight Italian football survival. Although Milan had 62% of possession, they never truly looked like getting anything from this game.